Kenneth McBride


Soviet-era Communism was a project of emergence that failed to realise its Utopian ambition. Nevertheless, it created an unprecedented simulacrum whose visual language was appropriated by a number of artists as a readymade. This artistic response to everyday reality shaped an unofficial narrative of the Communist epoch. Operating beyond the official realm these artists were subject to varying degrees of censorship, and their activities led to what became known as ‘non-official’ art. Non-official artists suffered from inferior materials, lack of exposure, and were forced to radicalize their methods of production. Without official support the everyday domestic realm and a diverse range of outdoor sites became sites of production. The primary arena, however, and the one that would become the most politicized, was the artist's body that often acted as one or both material and surface. On the one hand the thesis takes the Communist context as a common platform from which to discuss time-based art practices in Eastern Europe while, on the other, it proposes that such a general view is worthless since it does not pay sufficient attention to the particular conditions within each bloc country. While the former serves as a reference for artistic response in a wide view, the latter provokes a deeper, more contextualised, understanding of the social, political, and cultural conditions that ultimately shaped non-official art. To understand fully the effect of the Communist past also involves analysing it through the lens of the present day. A number of works produced pre- and post-1989 are analysed that offer insights into the past, its disintegration, and the transition period. The theoretical and critical thrust is shaped from primary research material gathered from artists, intellectuals, and critics throughout the region, so as to most clearly reflect its own contemporaneous and unfolding discourse. It builds on these key sources and underscores the difficulties faced when trying to locate the works within existing art history canons. Together with this written element, a further two curatorial strands complete the form of the thesis. A website has been created that reflects the thesis enquiry, three re-enactments of historical works are undertaken as a strategy that allows for a more experiential understanding of context, and three new performances devised by the author in response to the contexts researched complete the work. The thesis was written throughout Eastern Europe, and primarily in Poland where the author lives and works.

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